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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Margaret Owen here to share about her YA fantasy THE MERCIFUL CROW. It sounds like it has great world building and a fast-paced plot. I’m really looking forward to reading it.


First, I have news from a follower. Ronel Janse VonVuuren has a new MG fantasy, MAGIC AT
MIDNIGHT. Here's a blurb: Amy has to leave behind her beloved pegasi and enter a world far removed from her own. Can this lowly farm girl prevent war from being declared among the kingdoms? And here's a purchase link:

Now onto Margaret's interview. Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

A future chieftain

Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

A fugitive prince

When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

A too-cunning bodyguard

Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

Hi Margaret! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Hello, and thank you for having me! I suppose it really was inevitable: my family and school were all very supportive of reading and writing, although no one ever tried to persuade me that it would be a lucrative career. I found myself writing a lot as a teen, and then as I graduated, went to college, worked different jobs, moved towns, and so on, the only constants were: my book collection, and how I kept falling back into writing!

2. Where did you get the idea for THE MERCIFUL CROW?

There were a number of elements that I’d had floating around my skull for a while: I wanted to write something atmospheric and a little unknowable, and I’d always found plague doctors interesting. Then I came across an article outlining the lives of medieval European executioners, and I was struck by how they were exiled from the communities they were supposed to serve. Once that was thrown into the mix, it really just picked up bits and pieces of other ideas until it became its own story.

3. Reviewers have said that your world building is fantastic and that part of it is your attention to all the details of your world, such as the politics and religion. Share what your world building process was like.

That’s very kind of them! I’m absolutely a huge nerd when it comes to world building—if anything, I can get carried away. For me, politics and religion are the bedrock of a world, because religion decides what your society believes, and politics shows how they (hypothetically) enforce those values. For example, the foundation of the culture in TMC is the widespread belief that good people are born into ‘good’ castes, that there’s this divine meritocracy being enforced. The next step for me is to ask: how does that impact someone’s everyday life? How does it impact resource allocation? Rituals? Property and land ownership? Tax policy? Folklore?
And then you have to consider how that will play out on the page: what characters want, how those beliefs shape their experiences, what they think is right and wrong. For example, initially Fie is offered money or land in exchange for her help. It’s payment that seems reasonable to a prince and his bodyguard, who have never had their right to those things challenged. But to their surprise, Fie rejects those on the spot. She knows from personal experience that they would only be driven off the land or robbed of the money; her caste has a long history of being denied wealth and stability, and a longer history of that being ignored by the authorities. This circles back to the fundamental belief in a divine meritocracy: the country’s cruelty toward her caste is justified by the belief that they’ve been born to a low caste as divine punishment. That’s why I always start with ‘what does your society believe.’

4. That's great advice on what to focus on in your world building. It also sounds like THE MERCIFUL CROW is a real page turner. What are some of the ways that you kept the plot moving so that readers keep wanting to turn the page?

This is going to sound absurd, but I was actually having a bit of trouble figuring out how I wanted to pace it…. And then I went to go see Mad Max: Fury Road. This was right around when I was drafting the fourth chapter, I think. I came out of that movie thinking about how they kept you absolutely nailed to your seat for what was essentially a 2-hour chase scene. The key was that no matter how far they went, no matter how fast, or who they shook off their tail, there was always someone or something else closing in, and they all knew it.  

5. I think seeing how movies keep you totally engaged in a good way to figure out a riveting plot. What was a challenge that you had in writing this story? How did you overcome it?

Honestly, the biggest challenge was staying focused. I drafted my first-ever manuscript at a time when I didn’t have internet access in my apartment, and it went a lot faster (though not necessarily better.) I had wi-fi for most of my time drafting TMC. More or less coincidentally, I also had my internet blocked for most of my time drafting TMC!

6. Your agent is Victoria Martini. Share how she became your agent and what your road to publication was like?

Unexpectedly quick. I’d already slogged through the query trenches with my first manuscript strapped to my back, with nothing to show for it, for about 2 years before I shelved that story. I fully expected to take a year to find an agent, then spend another year on submission, which is a perfectly normal time frame.

Then I entered TMC into a pitch contest and wound up with a startling amount of interest from participating agents. That’s when I knew something was up. I sent out queries to any agents who I wanted to be sure had a chance to look at the manuscript… and then the next day I got an offer, which meant I had to nudge all those queries, which FYI looks SUPER SKETCHY when you do it ONE DAY after sending a query. There was a bit of a flurry as I got to talk to a bunch of wonderful agents, but at the end of the day, Victoria really blew me away on every level. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’m a pretty clean drafter, so we were able to go on sub fairly soon. I signed with Victoria in April, and then by June, things were heating up with editor interest, and we went to auction at the end of the month. By the time we got back from the July 4 weekend, the auction had wrapped up, and I was able to officially (and very smugly) give my work notice that it was time to start looking for my replacement. The whole thing was wild. I can't wait to see what my next deal is like.

7. Sounds like a publication story we'd all like to have. What is something that surprised you in the publishing process?

The amount of things people think authors have control over that we DEFINITELY do not. Coworkers would ask me if I’d be doing my own cover, and I would try not to laugh rudely in their face. Same goes for events, special editions, tours, you name it—I’m lucky to have a great team making a lot of cool things happen, but I’m hardly clapping my hands and shouting, “Garçon! Bring me the sprayed edges, post-haste!”

8. What have you done to promote THE MERCIFUL CROW prior to release? How are you planning to market your book when it releases and after?

That’s a tricky question, haha. The tough answer here is that as a debut author and unknown quantity,
I can only directly and personally convince a couple hundred people to buy my book, maximum. The big game-changing marketing happens at the publisher level, where they’re pitching my book to different outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie bookstores. As a control freak, that’s something I had to come to terms with.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t help in other ways—for example, this blog post! And other things like features, guest posts, interviews, reaching out to libraries and indie booksellers, and so on. We also know the most effective form of marketing is word-of-mouth, which can be something of lightning in a bottle: the trick is how to catch it. For me, that’s where the real value of a preorder campaign is, and why I appreciate all the bloggers and book fans posting pictures of the swag they get—it’s an organic way to promote the book, because odds are it’s the first time at least one of their followers will have heard of it. (Yes, I’m including a link to my preorder campaign below.)

9. Thanks for sharing your practical ways to help market a debut book. They are something we can all do. What advice do you have for authors who are signing their first publishing contract about preparing for their debut?

I’m going to repeat what I heard the most, because it’s absolutely held up for me: work on something else. Work on your next project. Not your sequel, because if you get a sequel, odds are you’ll make changes during edits that would impact your sequel. Start the next project you intend to sell. I don’t think a lot of authors go into this intending to only ever publish one book; the sooner you can have something else ready to go, the better shape you’re in.

There also tend to be gaps of days, weeks, sometimes months when you don’t have anything to work on for your debut. That’s exactly when you should be working on your next book. Or starting a creepy doll collection! You’re an adult, I can’t tell you what to do. I bet the book’s gonna be more profitable in the long run, though.

10. What are you working on now?

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Margaret. You can find Margaret at:

Twitter and Insta: @what_eats_owls
Preorder campaign, open until 8/6: https://forms.gle/ofzNFhT2q8MjB51y8

Margaret and her publisher Henry Holt & Co. have generously offered an ARC of THE MERCIFUL CROW for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through August 10th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The ARC giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Here's what's coming up next:

Wednesday, August 7th I have an interview with debut author Gabrielle Kirouac Byrn and a giveaway of her MG fantasy RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON

Monday, August 12th I'm doing a monthly newly released MG and YA giveaway if there is no giveaway hop in August

Monday, August 26th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Melissa Richeson

Hope to see you on Wednesday, August 7th!


nashvillecats2 said...

Hi Natalie, wonderful interview with Margaret. It's great to see how authors were encouraged to write and where that encouragement led to.


Crystal @ Lost in Storyland said...

I recently finished The Merciful Crow. I agree that the world building was fantastic, so it was a lot of fun to read about that - as well as Margaret Owen's road to publication :)

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

Excellent subject to have chosen, Margaret, plague doctors, fascinating, as my degree was medieval history.

Brenda said...

Hope you have a lovely week Natalie. What a fascinating subject and congrats to Margaret on the release of The Merciful Crow.

Antara said...

Thanks for the giveaway and wonderful interview! The Merciful Crow sounds really interesting; I can't wait to read it.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

World-building is such an amazing process...so interesting to hear how Margaret approached it!

Jemi Fraser said...

Fascinating insights into world building. 'What does your society believe' is a great place to start!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Congrats to Margaret! I think that's every writer's hope- to be pleasantly surprised by everyone wanting the book instead of the slog we all expect.

Samantha Bryant said...

Sounds like another good read. I always learn about the most interesting books on your blog. @samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Angie Quantrell said...

Fascinating road to publication! Congratulations! The premise sounds intriguing and very engaging. Can't wait! Sharing on Twitter. angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Holly Bryan said...

I have *really* been looking forward to reading this one!! It looks so good (and that cover is awesome). I've got my fingers crossed!
hmbryan at alumni.duke.edu

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview. I've had this book on my want to read list as the premise sounds so good. The cover story is hilarious, but the one this book ended up with is stunning! I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/186656174777/margaret-owen-interview-and-the-merciful-crow

Rosi said...

I always learn things from these interviews. Thanks for this one. I will pass on the giveaway. Buried here!

kathrynjankowski said...

Sounds like a fascinating read! Thanks for the interview.

Vanessa said...

I'm so excited for this book. It's one of my most anticipated. The world building sounds so good!

Pat Hatt said...

Thinking what your society believes sure can set the tone. Having writing as a constant is a fine way to be.

Megan said...

This book sounds amazing! I don't think I can enter the giveaway if I'm not in the US, is that right?
If not, I'd love to enter! I did also share on twitter :)
GFC: Megan S., megan(dot)clarsach(at)gmail(dot)com

Taffy said...

I love this cover!

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

The title sure caught my attention. Now, I've got to read it. Great interview, ladies. Congratulations to you, Margaret. Happy reading.

Natasha said...

The Merciful Crow sounds like an amazing read!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Donna K. Weaver said...

Nice interview. The books sounds intriguing. I can hope there will be an audiobook. :D

Natalie Aguirre said...

This is for U.S. and Canada. I will be including this as a giveaway choice in my newly released MG and YA giveaway on 8/12/19 that will be an International giveaway.

Tonja Drecker said...

This sounds like a great read, and the cover has me hooked. Congrats, Margaret!

Loni Townsend said...

Great interview! Sounds like an interesting read. :)

Anonymous said...

Religion and politics are definitely key in world-building--I just wish I were better at writing them! Thanks for teh giveaway.

Sherry Ellis said...

Merciful Crow is an intriguing title. Good interview! I enjoyed reading about how movies influence you.

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for a really interesting interview!

Jennifer Lane said...

I'm glad you're having a great summer, Natalie! Congratulations to Angela (sounds like a great premise) and Gabrielle.

dolorah said...

I usually know what the beginning, major conflict, and ending is; but I'm not an outliner so I'm usually surprised by where all that essential story and character arc goes. Sometimes I wonder "where did that scene/character come from?" And then I have to rewrite around it.